You found my secret page!!
Presenting, the cover and a sample of the new standalone novel about Jason Knight in his new love story, "In My Blood".
This sassy, heartfelt romance takes us into Jason's future, as he comes to realise that, while Lily is supposed to be the love of his life, his soul mate, he will never matter to her that way.
He decides it's time to leave and be alone for ever instead of alone in love, maybe focus on making the world a better place, or perhaps find a girl who will always choose him the way Ara chooses David.
I hope you enjoy the unedited first draft excerpt, and please stop by on Facebook to tell me what you think. But don't tell anyone about this secret link you found. We're keeping this on the DL for now. ;)
This text is the intellectual property of Angela M Hudson. All Rights Reserved ©Angela M Hudson 2018. Do not copy or distribute this text without written consent from the author.
1. Hey, Your Ex Had Fangs
Passing the giant billboard for the show, I ducked my head a little so people wouldn’t recognise me as the woman in the picture. On any other day, it wouldn’t bother me if they asked for an autograph or wanted a selfie with me, but as I slipped into the detective’s seedy New York office, I just wanted to remain anonymous.
“Is he in?” I asked his receptionist.
“Just got back. He’s been waiting for you.”
I walked past the desk and into the small office stacked with papers and books. This room had always looked familiar to me, but I wasn’t sure why. It was the reason I’d hired this man to begin with. Familiarity wasn’t something I’d had a lot of this past year.
“Miss Aaron.” He sat down, offering me a seat.
“Nice to see you again.”
“Tell me you have some news for me.” I clutched my purse nervously, my heart in my throat. This guy was known for being thorough and he didn't call you in unless he knew something.
“You came to me six months ago because you had no memory of your life,” he said. “Aside from an ability to sing and play instruments, it seems your personality had been wiped clean. But that doesn’t mean you have no past, and the fact that the cops haven't turned anything up and that there was never a missing persons report filed has made it difficult, but not impossible, to find out who you are.”
“So you did find something?” I shuffled forward on the seat.
“I found what I call a footnote.” He tossed a yellow envelope to me. “It’s almost as if every trace of you has been erased from existence, except for this.”
I slipped a finger under the seam and ripped it open, hands shaking. When I was found unconscious under the Statue of Liberty, wearing a necklace that said “Juliet”, I’d never been too concerned with the fact that no one knew where I’d come from. I had a name and enough gumption and talent to help me find a career and actually make something of myself here in this big city. But a hole inside me had grown and become gaping and terrifying over the last six months, as if I’d forgotten something really important. Something that really mattered.
Inside the envelope was a newspaper clipping of a woman with blonde hair and a hard smile standing in front of an orchestra. And there, in the photo with the woman, was a younger girl who looked a lot like me.
“Is this me?” I read the name at the bottom: “Juliet Bard?”
“Well, I thought so, but that woman in the picture said her daughter died. A year ago.” His right brow lowered in scepticism. “Apparently that girl and her boyfriend were killed in a house fire in Pennsylvania. Look at the other image.”
I drew out a photo of a headstone that read: Jules Bard. Very beloved friend.
“Do you think this was me? Like maybe I staged my own death and forgot?”
“Possibly. But I couldn’t dig anything else up—especially not on this boyfriend you had.” He cleared this throat. “That woman said Juliet was dating someone who worked at the university, and she gave me a name, although she wasn’t certain because, apparently, you two hardly ever spoke.”
“Did you find any friends maybe? Did she give you any other leads to go on?”
“Only that you were at Juilliard until your father got sick, and then you deferred for a year and transferred to the college where he worked. But there’s no record of you having been enrolled and your mother couldn’t recall the names of your friends. She didn't attend the funeral either, since she doesn’t believe it would have mattered to you either way, so she can’t even say who was there.”
“Wow. Doesn’t sound like I’m leaving much behind,” I noted, sadly.
“Or you're leaving a lot behind, and someone has gone to a lot of trouble to make sure you couldn’t come back. I can’t find the address of the fire, and there are no police reports, no emergency call log. Nothing. A name did come up though—in my search for your boyfriend—and it relates to several other cases I’m investigating.”
“What kinds of cases?”
“Unsolved murders, missing persons.”
I sat back in my chair. “What name? You said a name came up?”
My eyes narrowed. “Los-what?”
“Los. Lili. An.”
“What is that? A surname?”
“I have no idea,” he said, scrutinising me as if digging to see what I knew. “In my time on the force, I came across several unsolved investigations that were closed off under the highest authority, and if a man dug any deeper on a few of those cases, the only information he might come up with was “Loslilian”. No one spoke of it but everyone knew about it. Now, I don't know if it’s a code name or—”
“So what the hell have I got myself tangled up in?”
“Not sure, kitten.” He took the photos back. “But whatever it is, you're still alive when someone thought it was important enough to make it look like you were dead. If I were you, I’d take a backseat to this theatre career of yours and just be happy to be alive.”
“But that’s not living,” I said, grasping my necklace. “And I haven’t been able to block out the feeling that something is missing—all this time.”
“It is: your memories, your old life. But I can’t tell you much more than that,” he said, but I got the distinct feeling he was holding back. He was too smart to know this little. “That woman there is your mother, and that’s all I know. Everything else seems to be wiped clean: school records, birth records, even your death certificate. The only sign that you existed is your headstone and your mother’s memory.”
“So that’s it? Case closed?”
“That code word,” he said, leaning forward on his desk and lowering his voice, “has gotten guys in my profession killed—”
“How do you know that?” I asked cynically.
“Do you think this is the first case I’ve taken on that deals with missing persons? People don't get answers from the cops, they come to me,” he said simply. “I’m not going there. If you're caught up in something to do with Loslilian, you're on your own, Miss Bard.”
I shuddered at the use of a name I’d never known, biting my teeth in frustration. “Fine. I’ll figure it out myself.”
“I don't doubt you will,” he called as I exited his stuffy little office.
In my plan for finding out who I really was, I spent the next twenty four hours scouring the internet, fuelled by coffee and stale pizza. I couldn’t go directly to the woman we thought was my mother because there was a good chance my death had been faked for a reason. I didn't want to endanger her or myself. But the world wide web of black holes led me to nothing, because Detective Withhold-y Pants hadn’t even given me the name of my dead boyfriend—a fact that didn’t register until I’d already left his office in a moody huff. All I had to go on was that he worked at the university where my father worked—which was in Pennsylvania but I had no idea which one. The detective never even said if he’d spoken to my father. Was he dead too?
Someone had to know something.
Which left only one option: road trip. If I’d studied at Juilliard then that must mean I left and studied music at my father’s college, so maybe I’d start there; maybe I could walk into every college with a music program, attend a lecture or two, and see who’s ass explodes in a brown fountain on seeing my ghost return.
After the show that night, I exited the stage to a standing ovation and quickly sidestepped the backstage well-wishers. There just wasn’t time for it tonight if I wanted to make it back here before the next curtain call on Friday.
“Juliet?” Martin hollered, chasing after me with his clipboard in hand. “Juliet, there are VIPs waiting for autographs.”
“Argh, come on,” I whined. “Martin, I need to go. That detective dug up a lead and I need to go investigate.”
“Really? That’s great.” He stopped in front of me, face lit with a hopeful smile. “Where are you headed?”
“Pennsylvania. No idea where in Pennsylvania but I figure I’ll drive around and see if anything grabs my attention.” I gave his arm a reassuring pat. “I’ll be back in time for the next show.”
“Okay, that’s fine. But you still have a duty to your adoring fans.” He grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me around, gently pushing me the entire way.
In my scanty costume, all glittering and adorable, I signed each book that was shoved in my face, loving every minute of it, but hating it also because I was desperate to get going. But when a slender woman with teary green eyes stepped up next, a sharp electric jolt of recognition jabbed my brain. I blinked a few times, hoping I wasn’t being weird by gawking at her.
“Jules,” she said, sniffling up an involuntary breath.
“Um… do I know you?”
“Don't do that, Jules,” she cried, her face in a full emotional mash of misplaced muscles. “Please don’t. I saw you on the ad on tv. I couldn't believe it at first. I had to see it for myself.”
“Listen…” I put my hand on her arm and led her off to the side, away from listening ears. “I’ll be straight with you. I don't know who you are—”
“I’ve been in New York for a year with no memory of my past,” I whispered. “I was found unconscious beneath the Statue of Liberty by an off-duty cop. I have no memory of my life before that.”
She burst into tears but it almost looked out of relief. “Then you didn't run away?”
“I… don't think so.”
“Jules.” She hugged me, and even though I didn't know her I welcomed it, because it had been a long time since…well… never, in my recollection, that I’d hugged anyone. “I don't know what happened,” she said. “But I’m so glad you're not dead. Is Jason dead? Or is he here with you?”
Leaning out from the hug, the woman pouted at me. “He was your boyfriend. The…” She pointed to her teeth, eyes widening as if that was supposed to mean something. But I shook my head. “Are you saying you don't remember him? Jason? Jase, you called him.”
I shook my head again. “Look, why don't I go get changed and you can fill me in over coffee? I was literally just about to drive to Pennsylvania in search of answers—”
“Do you remember something?”
“No, I had a private eye look into my past for me. He didn’t find much about how I got here except for a newspaper clipping of my mother, and some code word: Loslilian.”
“That’s not a code word,” she said, exhaling. “That’s an island.”
“Come on.” She linked arms with me. “We have a lot to talk about.”
“Well, how about you start by giving me your name?” I said with a laugh.
She smiled, taking me in with soft, almost loving eyes. “It’s Jo. I’m your best friend.”
I arrived three minutes and forty seconds before my appointment. Not that I counted those minutes, but the lady at the reception desk was happy to point it out, along with the fact that all auditionees were expected to arrive fifteen minutes early to tune their instruments.
“Duly noted,” I said, bending to hoist my cello case off the ground. Each corner of the room had already been claimed by a section, with brass, strings and percussion uniting in a messy clatter of noise. So I took up a spot between two well-dressed Freshies who were done tuning and were just waiting. They weren’t the prettiest competitors, but they had that look about them, you know: the kind that says they spend more time working toward their career goals than making memories.
They were my scariest competitors. Even more so because these positions were typically only open to college seniors and third-years, like myself. How did they even land an audition?
In my baggy white sweater, my rolled up jeans and unlaced converse, I sat down and reached into my bag for my sheet music, only to find the wrong damn folder. I stared the purple cover down, flipping it open just in case I was mistaken, but instead of “Beethoven - Cello Sonata No. 3”, my endlessly-rehearsed and effortlessly perfected audition piece, a page of ammeter compositions and odd scribblings—mostly unicorn doodles—mocked me and my planned future, like a green-nosed gremlin.
The room shrunk and all the bodies around me shifted inward, making the air thick and humid. I sat taller so there’d be more room in my lungs, and subtly scrunched the pages in a fist of regret. I was out of my depth here. What was I thinking? Look at these people. Grey suits or black pants; class; poise. And me: a mess, a chaotic ripple of emotion and lack of control. I’d be a disappointment to my father and a total failure because of some stupid sheet music.
It wasn’t even like I couldn't play without it—after the months I’d spent practicing, studying, practically bleeding these notes—but when the nerves made everything around me brighter and louder, I knew I’d forget a simple note or something trivial like that. I was prone to forgetting song lyrics some nights at my gig if there was a really unbelievably cute guy at a table in the first row. This wouldn't be any different, and I knew that. That’s why I packed my bag last night, so I wouldn't forget anything in my traditional morning mad-dash.
I had to hope, though. I had to try to believe in myself as a musician and hope I’d be fine, but the worry—of the unknown; the Before and After; the right now and soon-to-be-then—got the better of me for a moment and I actually felt my eyes blister up a tear.
“Don’t you know it’s bad luck to cry before an audition?” the girl beside me whispered, looking around as though she might catch my misfortune.
“No, bad luck is having a father with a heart condition who’s overly invested in your future,” I said, lifting my glasses to subtly dab a knuckle under my eye. “It’s not like he’s been waiting for this day, among many more that will follow because of this, since I was two! I’ve let him down and I haven't even started the audition.”
The girl didn’t quite know what to say, obviously. She just looked a bit freaked out, glancing at the gawking boy beside me and then closing her hands in her lap as she cast her eyes forward. To them, to all of them—half of them staring now as well—I was one less thing to compete with.
The shame overwhelmed me then. Feeling like a complete loser, and now a complete emotional idiot, I stood up to leave right as the door to the interview room opened and a way-too-cute guy poked his head out. His smiling eyes surprised me a little, set above a dark four-day-growth—the kind that was shaved into shape not left there accidentally—and even though I wasn’t about to get thrown off by a male model in room that’s supposed to be old men in grey suits, it was enough to make me check my attitude and at least pull myself together for a beat.
“Let’s have Juliet Bard please.”
All heads turned to me. I bent down, shouldered my bag and picked up my cello case and folder—swearing to change the covers after today—and held my head high as I walked through that door toward a semi-circle of judgemental stone faces.
“You can sit over there,” the cute guy said, aiming his slender finger at a chair.
I nodded, clearing my throat, because the voice I tried to use came out in a tiny squeak. The green-eyed hunk hid his obvious amusement behind a dignified smile, which made me feel a little better—the fact that someone could find anything amusing in this mess. My entire day had been a failure. But the only way it could fail worse is if I ran away crying like a baby.
So I sat my skinny ass on the chair, laid out some pages to pretend I wasn’t a total forgetful, disorganised twat, and opened my cello case only to find my bow missing: the long object made of horse hair that soared across the strings, it was sort of a little bit important if I wanted to play cello today.
Setting my teeth into an apologetic don’t-kill-me grin, I sucked a breath inward and pushed my glasses back up onto my nose. “Does anyone have a spare bow?”
All sunk back with visible irritation.
“Jason,” a lady said impatiently, waving her hand off in Cute Guy’s direction.
He stood, wandered over to the instruments set up behind them, and picked a bow from someone’s seat, handing it to me. “You break it you bought it.”
“Got it. Sorry,” I whispered, hoping an apology would get me some good standing. It didn’t. And when he turned to walk away, the impatient roll of his eyes made obvious the fact that he’d seen my tragic page of disfigured unicorns and extremely amateur compositions.
Closing my eyes to shut them all out—along with the shame and humiliation—I played the stupid song from memory. Well, as best as I could. It was note-for-note perfect, but I’d come to rely on the sheet music to keep my timing, and anyone that knew me well also knew that I did not perform well under duress.
The panel of judges didn’t say a word after I finished, and when I finally mustered enough courage to gawk up at them, none looked impressed. Like, at all.
“You did understand what this interview and audition was for?” someone asked.
“Miss Bard, if you hope to achieve success in your career, the Steinburg and Rogers Philharmonic is not just a strong starting point toward the New York Symphony, as your cover letter would impress upon,” a man added, glancing up from the page where he’d probably had to read my name to recall it, “but it is a career in and of itself, and it requires the kind of dedication—”
“That you have not demonstrated here today,” said another. My eyes moved onto him, realising he was actually a she. “All I saw, I’m afraid, was a complete lack of enthusiasm or application. I—”
“Thank you,” an older woman cut her off, as if she didn’t have time for an explanation, or felt I’d wasted enough of their time already. “Let’s have the next in line please.”
Leaving the bow on the chair, I packed away my book and cased my cello, ducking my head as I took the sixteen painful steps past their table and out the door, where the barrage of judgmental stares from my competitors hit me like rotten tomatoes.
Wearing them like a fashion statement, I shrugged, trying to convince myself it was better to have tried and failed than to have run away crying like a baby.
All four glasses clinked over the cluster of used cups, symbolically marking out the kind of week we’d all needed to drink away.
“Here’s to Jules, our favourite failure,” Finn said.
“That’s not helping, guys,” I whined.
“Maybe it’s time to go back to musical theatre,” Finn suggested. “Take this as a sign.”
The four of them came to life in mutual agreement.
“It’s not over yet.” I tapped my glass on the table. “I can try again next year—be more prepared. I won’t let my dad down.”
“But what about letting yourself down?” Clive chimed in. “You’ve never wanted the New York Symphony Orchestra as badly as you wanted musical theatre.”
“She’ll never get there either if she can’t even pass an audition for the University Ensemble,” Finn teased.
“Well, for the sake of my dad, I’m sticking to it. It’s the best path for me,” I said, muttering the next sentence under my breath, “Even my if father will disown me after today’s epic fail.”
“You still haven’t called him?” Jo said, catching on.
“No. I mean, he’s called like six times, so I’m guessing he’s at least suspicious by now.”
“He would have known the second you didn't call to say it went well,” Finn added.
“Yeah, but he wouldn't know how epically bad it was. At this point, he’s probably assuming I’m beating myself up unnecessarily.”
“Aw, lighten up, Jules,” Jo hummed, wrapping her arm around my neck. “It’s not how hard you fall, it’s how long you take to get back up.”
“Well”—I threw back my last shot and stood up, kissing Jo on the head—“I gotta get up and get my ass to work, else I won’t be paying my rent this week and you’ll all hate me.”
“Bye, love,” Clive said, pressing his cheek out as I kissed it. I gave Finn a one-armed hug and waved back as I shouldered my satchel and pushed out the door onto the street. Outside, the late summer air stirred the alcohol in my blood and made me a smidge more drunk than I had been sitting down. But I could get through tonight in this state. Wasn’t like I had to walk around.
When the traffic cleared, I crossed the street and made myself smaller as I slipped into the seedy bar through the service entrance. Right now, only a handful of the remaining day drinkers would be sitting on the leather booths in the eye-straining low light, ignoring me as I entertained them. But it was a paying gig, and that’s all that mattered. The glory and respect I’d one day get with my music would have to wait. Tonight, it was all about a pay-check.
“Jules. You’re late,” my ‘boss’ barked as I passed the bar.
“I’m three minutes early, Gerald,” I lied, knowing he wouldn’t buy it but also knowing he didn't care all that much.
“Check your watch, doll.”
I poked my tongue out in playful rebellion and sat down at the white grand piano, lifting the cover. A few heads popped up from their drunken stupors and looked on with interest, but seeing I wasn’t particularly hot, and was also wearing all my clothes, shifted their gazes back to the woes at the base of their glasses.
Gerald slid a plastic cup of water onto the piano top and leaned over it to gawk at me. “Did you bring that hottie with you tonight?”
“Clive?” I busied myself setting up my music and set list for the night. “He’s twelve years younger than you, Ger. That’s gross.”
“Not if you measure your years in beauty.” He pushed up off the piano and floated away, playfully scooping the fedora off a waiter as he passed and positioning it on his own head.
The lights above me came on, reflecting off my glasses and making it hard to see until I angled my head down. Were it not for those annoying lights, the seedy drunkards, and the general lack of any vibe, this place would actually be pretty cool. A top jazz club in its heyday, it had housed some of the greatest, and right at the white grand piano where I now sat, artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday had played for a few bucks, just like me. It was inspiring most nights, especially when Gerald got desperate and hired me for a bustling, energetic Friday or a Saturday. But on these slow Tuesday nights it was just as drab and lonely as my love life—or lack thereof.
As I started playing an oldie but a goodie, keeping the tempo slow and the volume low, my eyes strayed past a drunkard on table 15, over the head of a sleepy starer on table 10, to where a guy in a white shirt and chinos sat on a stool at the bar, drink in hand, angling his head just enough that I knew he was listening. After three years at this gig, it was a subtle hint of interest one came to recognise because it was the one thing that kept me going on nights like this.
On my next song, knowing I now had an audience of one, I went for something a bit bolder than I would normally in the first set.
“So, this is a bit of an old one,” I said into the mic, in a low, smooth voice, “and it doesn’t get much attention since its release some thirty years ago, but it’s a little one called Soldier.”
The man’s spine straightened and he brought his shoulder around slightly, too. I caught the stubbly side of his squared jaw and smiled into the mic as I looked away. He was hot. Drunk and troubled, but hot. He was all dark hair and unshaven I-don’t-care kind of shabby, his tie on the chair beside him, top button probably undone, as though he’d fallen onto that stool, untied himself from the real world and started drowning his worries, not realising how much time had passed around him. But I woke him up. I snapped him out of it for a moment. And that is why I believed so deeply in the power of music. It had the ability to reach and inspire, to teach and encourage. There was pretty much nothing a good, meaningful song couldn’t fix, at least in my life.
When the song ended, keeping in with the theme of my parents’ era, I played another Gavin DeGraw one: You Know Where I’m At.
Cute Drunk Guy spun around on his seat, whiskey glass resting on his thigh, and leaned back on the bar to watch. I instantly recognised him as the guy who’d called me into my failed interview, and he clearly recognised me. It actually made me nervous for a moment to be performing in front of him, but seeing he was having the same kind of day I was, I didn’t let it bother me or trip me up.
“Okay, folks. Thanks for listening,” I said. “I’m gonna take a little break now but I’ll be right back.”
I closed the cover on the piano and bent to grab my bag, intent on heading over to speak to that guy. But when I stood up again and looked his way, he was gone.
3. How to Stalk the Hot Guy, and Other
Ways to Look Totally Stupid
As summer booked its annual flight to the southern hemisphere, the campus gardens sprouted clusters of students hellbent on sucking up the meagre vestiges of sunshine we’d get in the middle hours of the day. Jo and I laid sprawled out on a rug by my favourite tree on the common lawn, our text books and study notes forgotten, while the hum of distant chatter and the trill of birdsong played as the soundtrack to our perfect day.
“I can feel myself burning,” I noted, rolling up to sit, my face stiff from the heat.
“You’re not too tragically white, you shouldn’t burn in this heat, Jules. Got sunscreen on?” Jo asked.
“No.” I rubbed my hand up my arm. “You got some?”
“Girl, does my black ass look like I keep sunscreen in my bag?”
“Black is not UV-resistant, Jo-Jo.” I whacked her knee. “You can still get cancer.”
“Hm,” she huffed, readjusting her position.
I shuffled across a few inches and leaned on the tree trunk, grateful for the salvation from the eye-squinting light. I did wish I’d worn shorts instead of jeans today, so my legs could tan a little, and the white crochet sweater was a bad choice for sunbathing because I’d probably end up with a doily pattern all over my back and arms.
As I lifted the sleeve to inspect it, a very slinky black Jaguar rolled past me, turning my head by an intangible force. I wasn’t sure if it was the car that caught my attention—not that I’d ever had an interest in cars—or if it was the guy driving it.
“Hey.” I leaned over and tapped Jo. “Check it out. It’s that guy I saw last night—at the bar.”
Jo rolled her head up until her chin doubled, and lifted her sunnies to get a look. “Mr Fancy Car?”
He pulled up in the parking spot reserved for the Head of Science and Research. Jo and I exchanged frowns.
“Looks like pretty boy’s gonna get his car towed,” she muttered, rolling back. “Either that, or he’s the smartest mother fucker alive.”
“He’s barely forty,” I said, watching him get out of his car and wait for the top to close over it. “How can he have a position like that?”
“Probably his dad’s parking spot.”
“Probably his dad’s car too,” I scoffed.
He looked over then, and since I’d just refilled my prescription, my updated lenses could see him squint with curiosity even from here. He dropped a little smile to himself before reeling it back in with a shake of his head, and walked away. In that dark blue suit, with the dorky satchel over his shoulder, he looked like the kind of guy who ran the science department, but he just didn’t look old enough. Which aroused my curiosity and awakened my inner Carmen Sandiego.
“What are you waiting for?” Jo said. When I finally tore my eyes away from that guy’s cute ass, she was looking at me again, sunglasses raised. “Go speak to him.”
“About nothing. Who cares? Just go over there, bat your pretty eyelids, and ask him out.”
“I can’t do that, Jo.” I pulled my sleeves down over my hands and tucked my knees up. “You know why.”
“So what if you have a few scars.” She sat up and scuffled over to me. “No one can see them under your clothes.”
“But he will eventually. If I talk to him, and we go out, we’ll eventually have sex. Then what? And besides, he’s gotta be, like, ten years older than me.”
“So?” Jo leaned right forward and cupped my arm, holding my gaze square with a stern one of her own. “I’ve known you for fifteen years, Julie-ghoulie. I know when you’re rationalising things away because you don’t want anyone to know what’s under those clothes.”
“Stop it.” I slapped her hand away when she pulled my shirt out a bit. “People will see.”
“See what? See the seven extra layers you wear to hide it?”
“I don’t wear seven layers,” I said shyly, looking around to make sure no one heard.
“You wear enough. And there’s no way anyone can know about those scars, Jules—unless you show them. And you won’t show them to anyone until you trust them. So what have you got to lose?”
She could never understand. She had perfect skin. All over. People that were perfect couldn't fathom the shame of hiding a scar—like a dirty secret you didn’t want anyone to know. It was with you all day, every day, in every thought, in every action because every action you took was to keep it hidden. It wasn’t worth explaining that to her again, because it wouldn’t change her opinion. So I just shrugged.
“You are too pretty to be wasted on a shelf, Jules.” Jo tugged my plait affectionally. “Glasses or none; scars or none; clumsy, chaotic, or forgetful. It’s all you—and those are the best parts.”
“You forgot the nose.” I tapped it.
“Right, how could I forget the giant honker.”
“Hey!” I hid it under my hands.
“Stop being so afraid people will notice your imperfections, Jules, and go out and live.” She yanked my hands away from my nose. “Your nose isn’t even big.”
“It’s too big for my face.”
“Then what do you call this?” She grabbed her own nose and gave it a wiggle.
“That’s different. You can get away with that kind of nose—”
“Because I’m black?” she said, pushing both brows up.
“Even though its wide, it suits your face.”
“So does yours.” Jo tapped the tip. “We are what we are, Jules. In pieces, our features might not be all that, but put together, they fit pretty well.”
I sat back and smiled, laughing out through my nose. She could be so sweet and so wise sometimes. “See? This is why we had to be best friends.”
“Why? Because I give you compliments?”
“No, because you slap me out of my own detrimental hole sometimes. No one else can do that.”
“Happy to help.” Jo elbowed me softly. “Now, how about we go track down this sexy science guy?”
“Just to spy on him, not talk,” I warned.
“Right.” A mischievous grin stretched her face. “Because we’re college students not high school students. Why would we want to be mature about something like this?”
I laughed, helping her stand.
In an ugly building that I’d never been into before—never wanted to go in—we found a sign that pointed us to the second floor, and I took note of the professor’s name. “Jason Knight,” I said under my breath. I knew instantly that the guy hadn’t been parking in his dad’s spot—unless his dad’s name was also Jason. “I heard the panel of judges say his name. That’s definitely him.”
“Come on then.” Jo grabbed my hand and we snuck up the stairs and down a lonely corridor, gluing our backs to the wall when a large group of parents and students passed.
“Our next stop is the lab—headed by scientific prodigy Jason Knight…” said a man at the head of the group.
Jo and I exchanged the kind of wide-eyed glances that dripped with stupefaction.
“Prodigy?” Jo squeaked.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” I said.
We hitched ourselves to the edge of the group and followed them inside the lab.
If I were a science geek, I might have been impressed. Two clean lines of counters followed the walls on either side, with tables and machines and all sorts of stuff going on in the middle. It looked like those research labs you’d always see in the background on news reports about medical breakthroughs.
The tour guide led us in single file past the students in white coats, but Jason was nowhere to be see.
“So, why do you think he’s a prodigy?” I asked Jo quietly.
“Dunno. Wanna find out?” Before I could stop her, she threw her hand up and called out. “I have a question.”
“Uh…” The guide looked at his notes and checked his watch. “Sure. Shoot.”
“Why is Jason a prodigy?”
“Uh… he studied at Harvard, gaining a scholarship when he was twelve years old. From there, he went on to earn several Ph.D.s in science, research and medicine, and he developed the first really promising treatment for Alzheimer’s, among other things—”
A few more people threw questions at the guide then, and I came to realise this Jason guy was somewhat of a celebrity. I turned to walk away.
“Where are you going?” Jo whispered.
“I’m way out of my depth here, Jo. He’s, like, thirty years old. Fucking hot. Drives a Jaguar. And he’s cured Alzheimer's. What have I got to offer?”
“People who ask those questions spend their entire lives alone, Jules.” She grabbed my shoulders and turned me back toward the group. “We came here to spy on the guy, and that’s exactly what we’ll do. Now get back in that tour group.”
“Make me.” I folded my arms defiantly.
“Why are you so stubborn? Come on.” I hopped sideways as she grabbed for my arm. “We’re hunting this guy down if we have to hide in the lab until we see him.”
As we turned back around to follow the group, Jason popped out of a side door and waltzed across the room, handing a folder to a guy in a white coat. The group moved on ahead of us, but we barely noticed.
“Yep. Cute as all hell,” Jo noted.
“His eyes are green, too. I noticed them at the audition. Like, bright green.”
“You do realise we are totally pathetic right now,” she whispered.
“Yep.” I nodded, arms folded. “Totally pathetic.”
Jason looked over then and we both jolted out of the stupor, looking around for something to deflect with. “Are you girls lost?” he asked.
“Uh… yeah, we… we’re in the tour group,” I lied, pointing to the glass doors where they’d gone. “We got separated.”
As he sauntered over to us, my heart skipped several beats. So much taller than me, it felt like he towered over us, even though my head came up to his chin. He was nicely built, too—something I hadn’t noticed from a distance—his shadowy contours showing through his white button-up shirt. I’d seen him drinking, practically wallowing in his own misery, but if he was a drunkard then he certainly hid it well.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t be here. You have to go.” He offered his hand toward the door. “You can sign up for another tour, but the rules state that you must stay together or risk being thrown out.”
“Oh… okay,” I said, shuffling along as he shooed us away. I half expected Jo to make some witty remark and embarrass me, but she just ducked her head, laughing, and we exited the lab in barely contained fits of hysterics.
“Shit, Jules. He’s fucking gorgeous!”
“I know.” I fanned myself. “Oh my gosh, I know.”
“You have to ask him out.”
“I can’t. Didn't you see the way he just looked at us? We’re the annoying tour guests that couldn’t keep up. We totally interrupted his day.”
“So what? Don’t tell me you didn’t notice him noticing you.”
“Right.” I rolled my eyes, walking away. Jason didn’t notice me. Jo had a way of thinking people noticed, even when it was blatantly obvious that they hadn’t. Her gift for manifesting something out of wishful thinking was almost supernatural, but it didn’t change facts: Jason was gorgeous and smart and probably rich. And as unfair and self-deprecating as it probably was to say, he was just… kinda out of my league.
Yet, for some reason, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t really care.
2. Drunk, Damaged, But Oddly Sexy
One Year Ago
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In My Blood
A Vampire Novel